This month's Gist explains how a war on methane in the US can ensure that we are replacing Russian gas with the cleanest American made alternative (until we can get off the stuff altogether) to protect both the climate AND democracy.
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Ukraine and the War on Methane
The war in Ukraine has had a swift and irreversible impact on the geopolitics of energy. The US and UK have banned Russian energy imports. The EU has proposed cutting reliance on Russian gas by nearly two-thirds in the next nine months. The US is looking for ways to ramp up its Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) exports to Europe, to begin replacing Russian supply.
Whether we climate warriors like it or not, the free world remains reliant on natural gas. And we can’t pretend that electrification alone, even on an ambitious scale, is going to change that in the near term.
To help Europe wean itself off Russian gas AND keep reducing its emissions, the U.S. and its allies will need to wage a war on methane, natural gas' chief component. Last week’s joint US/EU announcement sets down an initial marker, with clear intent to reduce methane leakage.
Methane emissions happen in every stage of the natural gas industry, both accidentally and on purpose. They account for a quarter of global warming to date, and trap radiation much more efficiently than CO2, making its climate impact 25x greater than CO2 over a hundred year period.
Russia and the United States emit a lot of it. But the intensity of Russia's emissions tend toward the catastrophic, at nearly 2x that of the US, with numerous 'ultra-emitter' events according to this 2021 study; and Russia’s numbers are hardly reliable: they have submitted to the UN six different methane emissions numbers for the year 2010, ranging from 5.1 million tons to 31.5 million tons.
However, the IEA estimates that it is “technically possible to avoid around three-quarters of today’s methane emissions from global oil and gas operations” and about 45% at zero net cost. In short, with the right tech, market signals, and policy, we can tackle methane where Russia can or will not, and lead the world in the production of Responsibly Sourced Gas (RSG).
Here's the strategy:
- Deploy the monitoring technology of a growing number of startups, from lasers to pods to satellites to drones, to monitor and quantify methane emissions and leaks.
- Enhance regulations on methane emissions associated with Natural Gas production and distribution. Let's create a regulatory floor that no gas producer can go under, and that incentivizes them to go beyond. As one investor who covers this space warned me, “When you live in a world without regulation, the operators don’t give a shit; they’re not going to pay for the expensive solution.”
- Leverage the new trove of methane data to create a differentiated global market for natural gas, priced to preference the cleanest sources.
Methane monitoring technologies tend to attack the problem from three vantage points - space, the sky and the ground - and each has a role to play:
- Satellites are the macro data tool to capture large concentrations of emissions over broad geographical regions, helping to hold entire countries accountable. Environmental Defense Fund's MethaneSAT published 22 months of infrared Russian emissions data. Kayross Methane Watch and GHGSAT also offer established services.
- Sensors fixed to planes and drones provide long distance patrol capabilities: Drone applications like SeekOps, and airplane-mounted tech like Kairos Aerospace and Bridger Photonics, provide emissions snapshots at specific locations and facilities, whether on-shore or off, and can track many sites in a single flight.
- The sensiest ground-based sensors can provide continuous monitoring 24/7/365: Project Canary uses site-level sensor technology that records emissions every minute, Andium installs methane cameras to assess entire sites, while Longpath Technologies deploys wide-range sensors to detect emissions across large areas and multiple facilities.
This last category is particularly consequential. If we’re going to get serious about limiting methane emissions, we need to deploy 24/7 monitoring wherever possible. Beyond enabling faster response to leaks, continuous monitoring also provides the information that capital markets (i.e. ESG investors) and regulators (see the SEC’s new proposed climate disclosure rules) are starting to demand.
As with the CDR markets explored in last month's Gist, RSG markets need credible certification supported by a full range of technologies:
Credible Certification: The incentives of certifying organizations must be aligned with climate policy outcomes. Companies that provide monitoring services should not also be in the certification business. New entities like MiQ and Veritas are trying to get into the certification game, as are the Big Four accounting firms.
Tech-neutral regulation: The new draft EPA rule on fugitive methane emissions would require certain facilities to use a specific kind of technology - a camera - to take four methane emission snapshots a year, which would miss leaks the other 361 days. EPA shouldn’t be picking technologies, it should be focusing on outcomes. Tech that can deliver results 24/7/365 should be encouraged, if not required. The EPA still has time to fix this in the final rule.
The Russian war on Ukraine has led some commentators to pit climate advocacy and geopolitical demands against each other to advance short term economic or political interests. The bottom line is that both are critical, and we cannot abandon one for the other. So, in addition to sending javelins to Ukraine, let’s deploy our arsenal of tech and policy to fight a war on methane.
News from Our Network
From our clients:
BlocPower was ranked #4 on Fast Company’s Most Innovative Companies list.
Opower alumnus and good friend Rick Juneja is AiDash's new Chief Customer Officer.
ev.energy extended its Series A with ArcTern Ventures, Energy Impact Partners, and Future Energy Ventures.
Copper Labs announced a $5.5M Series A from Clean Energy Ventures (CEV), and added former FERC Commissioner Nora Mead Brownell to its board.
Pano’s wildfire detection tech is now live in New South Wales, Australia.
From friends and colleagues:
Applications are now open for Third Derivative's inaugural Carbon Capture Cohort, as well as its General Cohort for climate tech startups.
The Aspen Institute’s Tech Policy Hub is accepting applications for the Aspen Climate Cohort, a 10-week paid summer program training technical climate experts to apply their ideas to policy.
Voltus Chief Regulatory Officer and former FERC Chairman Jon Wellinghoff appeared on 60 Minutes to discuss security threats to the U.S. electrical grid.
The Washington Post chronicled the riveting story of Tanuj Deora purchasing an electric stove.
Jobs in our network:
Send us your job openings in cleantech policy, startups, and utilities, and we'll put it in next month's Gist.
The Department of Energy seeks an Executive Director for the Joint Office of Energy and Transportation, helping to build a national EV charging network.
Modern Energy seeks a Head of Policy and Markets.
Via is hiring a VP of Strategy and Operations.
Motor is hiring a VP of Growth. "Must be near a major airport."
Sunnova is hiring paid government affairs interns.
Pano is hiring a Senior Business Development Manager.
Advanced Energy Economy seeks a Policy Director for wholesale electricity markets.
OhmConnect hiring a remote Director of Partnerships.
Plentify is hiring for a Head of Partnerships.
AiDash is hiring a Sales Director.
Reasons for Hope, Reasons for Despair
Hope... Emmanuel Macròn must have read the December Gist because he added 1,000 euros to the subsidy for what the French call 'virtuous' residential heating, and stopped subsidizing gas furnaces.
Despair… The Supreme Court may gut the EPA’s ability to control emissions from power plants.